WRL Grand Finals Day 2023 previews

The 20th Welsh Grand Final takes place this Sunday when newcomers South Wales Jets take on Aberavon Fighting Irish at The Wern in Merthyr Tydfil (kick-off 4pm). Pic – RileySports.

It’s all part of a day-long programme of events with finals at all levels of the running game in South Wales.

The Jets have beaten all-comers this season. Despite being a new side, many of their players were previously experienced in community and semi-professional rugby league, with one full Wales international in Paul Emanuelli, coming out of retirement to play.

Jets’ founder Liam Price said: “To be in the grand final at the first attempt is quite something – an achievement that we are all very proud of. Although we have an experienced squad, we have a lot of players who haven’t played much rugby league since before Covid, so coming into this league against teams who have been more prepared and hardened to the code was a bit of an unknown. The boys have worked tirelessly all season to keep our standards high and I can’t fault them for their attitude and commitment.

“We go into the game against Aberavon knowing that it will be a tough encounter. They have an experienced squad who when at their best are a match for anyone. If we play with the attitude and intensity that I know we can achieve then hopefully we can be the ones lifting the trophy on Sunday evening.”

Richard Lewis played in the first final 20 years ago and whilst he has turned out once this season, he’ll enjoy more of a coaching role on Sunday, along with Dean Scully, who also played in 2003. Lewis said: “Here we are in our second grand final in as many years. With such a young squad last year, they have come back stronger alongside some experienced players, we have grown week-to-week and it proved that in the playoff.

“We welcome the challenge from the Jets as they are unbeaten this year and know their way to the try-line with some high-scoring games.

“Dean Scully and I were involved in the first Grand Final against Bridgend Bulls 20 years ago so we hope this group goes one better and brings the Trophy home. Good luck to all involved.”

Scott O’Kelly also played in the first final 20 years ago for Aberavon Fighting Irish, but now as founder of Swansea Rams, he’ll be viewing finals day in a different way.

In 2003, Aberavon were beaten well by Bridgend Blue Bulls, who at the time fielded international stars like Kevin Ellis, John Devereux, Allan Bateman and Lenny Woodard, and he remembers the day well.

He said: “The 2003 season was great for me as I thought my league days were behind me until I was asked to play with the Fighting Irish. It was a high-standard league with quality players returning to the game or trying it for the first time. We had a good team and performed well to reach the final.

“I remember we started strongly against a Bridgend side full of exceptional players including three GB internationals. The early exchanges were extremely physical and we were in the game. A long injury stoppage seamed to affect us more, even though I managed to score the next try of the game. After this, it was all Bridgend as experience and class of Bateman, Deveraux and Ellis made all the difference as we matched them for physicality and effort. We played hard but we’re beaten by probably the best amateur team in Britain.

“On to this year’s finals, and the club are very proud of the achievements of the U10s, and the first ever U9s team at Swansea. The players have taken to the game with enthusiasm and have produced some impressive displays this season. The players from both our U9s and U10s have come together from all over Swansea but have quickly become a close-knit team all working hard for each other to reach this year’s finals. Da iawn bechgyn, pob lwc.”

Swansea’s opponents in the U9s final will be Cynon Valley Cavaliers and their head coach Chris Moses said: “Heart, determination and overcoming the odds describes the Cavaliers’ U9’s season. The players’ efforts have been immense. The final is a bonus that we’re looking forward to, and as always, the children will try their very best. Win or lose, they’re already winners to us coaches, they have made everyone involved extremely proud.”

The Cavaliers will also compete in the U16 final. Their coach Jamie Evans said: “It’s been a great summer working with this group and what a great way to top in off by having one last day in the sun. We’re very proud that this team went unbeaten in the league campaign and have already secured some silverware, so win, lose or draw on Sunday, we’re going to enjoy the occasion. Good luck to Aber Valley and may the best team win on the day.”

Aber Valley Wolves have qualified for the most number of finals, five in total and two as league leaders. Helen Treherene from the Wolves says that everyone at the club is looking forward to the day.

She says: “All the players involved in this year’s Grand Final (U8s, U11s, U12s, U14s and U16s) are looking forward to the big occasion. Our U8s (as in all clubs) had never played league before but have enjoyed every minute of their first season. For some players in our other age groups. they will have played in the Grand Final before, but for others, this will be a totally new experience.

“It takes a huge team effort to get teams to the Grand Final and we’d like to thank all our players, coaches, volunteers, officials and supporters for making the club what it is. Also, a huge shout-out to our sponsors, without whom we wouldn’t be able to do any of it.

“Win or lose, all Wolves players are winners in our eyes, we’re immensely proud of every single one of them and we hope the five teams in the Grand Final just go out there to – of course – do their best, but just as importantly, to enjoy this great occasion. Whatever the result, they’ll make us proud!”

Bridgend Blue Bulls may not be in the men’s Grand Final as they were 20 years ago, but they have two junior finals where they can pick up silverware.

Nathan Morgan, head coach of Bridgend’s U14 said: “We’ve had a great season so far managing to win all of our league fixtures whilst being able to run a fully functioning development team alongside the side picked to play in the league games each week. Hopefully, we can take the form we have shown from our league campaign along with our play-off victory into the grand final and bring home the trophy!

Gareth Hopkin, Bridgend U12 coach adds: “The U12 team has come on so much from the first training session to where we are now. Having an average of 40 training each week. This season we have used 57 players in total, and we’re proud to be unbeaten in our league season with the calibre of teams that’s around teams like the Wolves, Robins and Tigers. Best of luck lads.”

Playing in their lone final this year, Matt Cummings from Torfaen Tigers hopes that their U10s will also help them celebrate their 20th anniversary in style.

He said: “Our U10s are very excited about the final this coming weekend, it has been a fantastic season for them so far with the team growing in confidence and personality each week which has been amazing to see. They will be solely flying the flag for the club so we are all fully behind them and hopefully it will be all smiles come Sunday afternoon.”

Pontyclun Kings are in the U8s final and Mark, their coach says: “In their first season, we have had a great start to rugby league life. With four coaches and 24 players, the young Kings have been able field two teams – red and purple in their first season. Reds lost in the senior final to AVW Black and our purple team are looking forward to the challenge that the Grand Final will bring us. “